Women’s Bible Study using Facebook

Corissa Nelson (Mankato, Minnesota USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Corissa Nelson is a designer in Mankato, Minnesota. She’s loved working as an architectural designer and teaching architecture studio in Milwaukee. Currently, she is applying those design concepts to graphic design in worship art and digital communication for ministry. She is especially interested in the study of both context and intuitive design and their usefulness for the church. She is a member of the WELS Women’s Ministry Committee, contributing as a member of the Development Team.

Although I tend to be an idea person and love vision casting, this is one project I ventured into with no idea what it would actually become. I started with a small goal and when it grew much more, had to trust that God had it under control, because many things were a stretch beyond my comfort zone — primarily the number of women who responded. I think some things just need to be figured out as you go, and an online women's Bible study was one of them. One step at a time. It was a great blessing.

The first and second online studies were hosted through my local congregation, Good Shepherd in Cedar Rapids, IA, teamed up with WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) Women's Ministry. Our third study will likely be teamed up with my new local congregation, St. Paul in North Mankato, MN.

Our first study was a book club style study. The second was on the Book of Acts with a focus on evangelism. Stay tuned for the third!

Study One flyer

The idea for online women's ministry Bible studies came together from a combination of factors. In Iowa, congregations are far apart. Some members there travel quite a distance to church. Gathering mid-week can be difficult. Starting an online forum to discuss a book seemed like a good solution for bridging the miles and adding a Bible study opportunity. I thought reading 2000 Demons: No Match for My Savior, by Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Professor E. Allen Sorum, would provide a rather interesting discussion. I appreciated that discussion questions are right in the book.

I selected Facebook as the platform simply because it is so common and multi-generational. Support is available locally to anyone wanting to give it a try. It is far from perfect, but we worked through technology hiccups together.

Once we'd bridged thirty miles for my local members, I realized we could discuss this book across any number of miles (as I had seen done by Holy Hen House and other online women's ministries). I proposed we share the opportunity across our growing WELS Women's Ministry social media network. The exec team of WELS Women's Ministry Committee had at the same time been looking for an online study opportunity and we were on the same page about the approach. We went forward together.

Getting started involved creating a schedule, selecting from discussion questions, setting up a private Facebook group, and making a downloadable flyer. This was done through the local congregation. Then, Women's Ministry was able to share links to the study through their Facebook page, Facebook discussion groups, and email list.

Women began to join the group at a faster rate than anticipated. I planned for 60 women, but we surpassed 600 members in the first study. The Amazon supply of the book temporarily sold out. Later, the Northwestern Publishing House and Forward in Christ helped promote, as did the WELS Together e-newsletter, and an article on wels.net, which brought the group membership to just over 1,000 women for the second study, which focused on evangelism.

The study was designed to support local small groups and also personal study at home — as a supplement, not replacement for traditional studies at church. Daily discussion questions were posted Monday through Friday. Group members simply checked the group forum at their own pace, in their own time, to answer discussion questions by typing in the comments below posted questions. There was not really a live component to it.

Approximately half of the women who joined the group remained active in the study, and a smaller percentage of the active participants were comfortable posting their answers for all to see. Some members interacted by liking posts or comments. Others read the content and chatted with their women's groups locally. The Facebook analytics and statistics for groups were helpful for understanding the demographics of the study and seeing that there were more participants benefitting beyond the most active commenters.

Study Two flyer

Compared to a traditional local study, this online study provided an extra measure of variation in perspective. This included different community contexts and cultures, some missionary experiences, and different generational perspectives. Mentoring happened naturally, which I feel is increasingly important. The group culture was enthusiastic and encouraging. Women signed in from several states and a few countries, posted a note to greet each other, found old friends, and made their common connections.

The ease of sharing online resources was an added benefit of the digital format. We shared videos and articles we had run across that were relevant to discussion. I think this format really challenged our idea of what a Bible study is. It ended up as a network of studies across the country. Some congregations had in-person small groups using the content or started their own women's Facebook groups for more intimate discussion. The study also challenged the idea of what a Bible study leader is, as it involved a lot more technology management and information organization and less teaching.

Creating a safe, positive, focused, environment took planning and effort. We set some ground rules and occasionally had discussions behind the scenes with group members, our local pastoral advisor, seminary advisor, and committee members about the best way to handle various scenarios.

A few other areas that took thought and effort:

  • It's common practice to join Facebook groups for the purpose of selling things or promoting other ministries not in our fellowship. Our study wasn't the place for that.
  • Sometimes the discussion would get hijacked for unrelated topics or, rarely, veer toward the divisive, needing to be steered back on track.
  • Group members often need assistance navigating the technology.
  • Application of men and women roles in an online women's study.
  • I attempted to make the study intuitive to use, as best as could be done on this platform. I used images to help guide members to daily questions, one post per question with discussion below in the comments.
  • Approval of group member requests, balancing the likelihood of fake/spam accounts and outreach opportunities, takes time.
  • Keeping an eye on discussion questions takes time. From time to time we sought additional pastoral input and brought that back into the online forum.
  • Each member has a different comfort level with the level of privacy in a large but private forum. That needed to be acknowledged from time to time.

We've slowly added to our team of admins to make this easier. We started with myself and my husband (local pastoral advisor), added a third, and soon a fourth team member through Women's Ministry. On the whole, though, the group was self-run with discussion. The questions were especially geared towards mature Christians sharing their knowledge with each other and they do a wonderful job of encouraging and answering each other. It really is safe to assume study members will approach discussion with grace, wisdom, encouragement, and discernment.

Study Two Bible bookmarks

Here are two other continued areas of thought for making future studies better:

  • Getting a handle on the best way to pose questions and share content in an online format. People simply don't interact the same way online. Online etiquette and nuances need to be understood somewhat.
  • Which study styles are best for an online forum? One study was book based, the other was written by Pastor Marques Nelson specifically for the online study. The book club study was easier to run, but it is easier for members to need only a Bible for study.

What is the potential of online Bible study? Although the 2000 Demons study was a riveting topic and the book club style was easy to implement, I personally really enjoyed the evangelism study. Our culture is changing fast and that's hard for anyone to grasp. I really think that women are well equipped for evangelism, in part because of the relational needs in this lonely culture. Can we be intentional about equipping women and recognizing the incredible potential there? I think so. This is a time when people are so lonely and seeking community and safe places for their children. Women naturally develop connections for these relational needs. At a playdate, at the post office, at the store, and over the back fence, many opportunities pop up for sharing the gospel and encouraging a church visit. What a unique opportunity we had to point this out to 1,000 women! Some of the women in the study had specific strategies that were simple and easy. One of my favorites was a tried and true collection of conversation starters in the post office line, used every visit to the post office. We all benefited from learning these ideas. I think this is close to what the greatest potential of an online study is for spreading the gospel. Study God's word together, encourage, share ideas, then GO out into our own communities — hundreds of communities can be reached out of the encouragement shared in just one study.

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Discussion

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Lydia Plocher (Martin Luther College) 2018-10-24 1:48:31pm
Dear Corissa,

I appreciate how you’re trying to bring women together in Christ by “bridging the miles” that separate so many of us women. I think it’s smart using the different social media platforms to bring fellow women together in Christ. I applaud you for having the first two sessions go so well! 600 people is no small feat. The challenge of identifying and communicating a compelling story related to God’s grace on display in each believer’s life would be a worthy pursuit for Christian artists and a blessing to its audience.

As I read the section of the troubles you had, I thought it would be smart to have some sort of seminar type of thing that could help the people who don’t know technology well to be able to figure out how to use Facebook for the purpose of the group.

Having read through your article, I began to wonder how to get word of the study out there. There are numerous people who would benefit from a Bible study like this, but they have to know it exists first. You say that you had a tried and true collection of conversation starters in the post office line, which would be helpful for that individual there and anyone in the vicinity, but there are so many more people out there. Finding a way to get word out about this book club turned into an evangelistic opportunity.

Thank you for your contribution to the conference!
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Corissa Nelson (WELS Women's Ministry, Corissa Nelson Art) 2018-10-25 9:03:39am
Your seminar for using the technology idea is interesting. I'd love to hear or see great ways to do that. My initial attempt was a post that had a bulleted list of tips and some screen shots. From there, the members were able to help share those tips with each other as we went. I could see a video introduction to the technology being really helpful.

Corissa
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Mollie Hinz (Martin Luther College) 2018-10-24 8:39:55pm
Dear Corissa,
Your discussion topic of women’s bible study online is a great idea. Today’s world is technology based which can be a good and bad thing. Having a women’s bible study online through this social media platform is a great use of the technology most people have today. The reality that you addressed about “congregations are far apart. Some members there travel quite a distance to church. Gathering mid-week can be difficult.” This is the reality of many churches in areas where the population is spread out. My home congregation deals with this also. We have small groups meet up and the members in them live closer to each other which helps bridge the gap of distance.
I can see the struggle of too many people and the more introverted people might not like to post to let everyone see, but having the smaller groups to help avoid people not wanting to comment will help a lot. Maybe have specific smaller groups based on where people are located.
How could more age groups be reached with the bible study through Facebook?
Thank you for sharing this with the conference!
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Corissa Nelson (WELS Women's Ministry, Corissa Nelson Art) 2018-10-25 8:54:12am
Small groups can be great. We had some local congregations forming their own small groups to meet in person along with the study. Some local congregations did make their own groups, too. (But, what happened in them, I am not sure.) I should have added in my challenges that having enough time to do the work of leading the study is a challenge. Managing one group was quite a lot of work. (There's no paid staff involved in this.) We've continued to discuss the idea of having a couple studies - one general, one more in-depth - going at the same time, but managing two groups would require even more people to lead the groups. Thinking of managing more than one at a time with the current number of volunteers makes my head spin a bit. It's something we hope to work up to, though. It would be pretty neat. Hopefully in time!
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Judy Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2018-10-24 10:03:00pm
I certainly applaud your initiative and it is exciting to see how God is blessing your work, but I do have a question about Facebook and wonder if you have experienced what is happening in three closed Facebook groups I am part of. In all three, previously a post I would send would have many people accessing it. Some responded or "liked" the post but I also could see how many actually accessed it on their group page. Typically at least 75% of the people who were members, accessed the post. Now only 5-10 of nearly 100 in the group apparently even see the message. The tech guru from Bethany told me that "Facebook changed its algorithms regarding public groups. My understanding was that the motivations were financial, as groups were then incentivized to pay money for their posts to be "boosted" to targeted groups.You could try to compensate by posting very frequently. You could reach out to some individuals, specifically, to share the post. You could pay to boost the post (we do this for the festival, it works)." Have you had trouble with Facebook?
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Corissa Nelson (WELS Women's Ministry, Corissa Nelson Art) 2018-10-25 8:59:58am
Facebook can be really difficult that way. We started out having to agree that it wasn't the perfect platform and prayed God would bless our efforts anyway. I encouraged the participants to sign up for "all post" notifications in the group settings and posted a screen shot of how to do it. That way, they would be notified every time a post happened and wouldn't miss it. If members didn't do that, I had no way of ensuring they got the messages. I've been dreaming of a Christian social media platform lately that would better support bible study and ministry networking. Anyone have the means and knowledge to pull that off?
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Judy Kuster (CMI board member) 2018-10-31 10:31:31am
I really appreciate you insight and suggestions. It is indeed frustrating with Face Book these days. I BIG change from a former time when what was posted was received by all subscribed. I will try to contact our members when I can and see if they can re-subscribe or change their settings to "all post." I hope that helps. Can you please send me the information and screen shot of how to do it? judith.kuster@mnsu.edu Thank you so much!
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Carley Techlin (Martin Luther College) 2018-10-25 12:32:59pm
Ms. Nelson,

The leap of faith you took to so boldly create a Bible study using social media, though you were uncertain if it would be successful or not, is truly inspiring. I never thought of the difficulty church families may have in gathering together when they live pretty spread out from one another. As a student who participates in the Women’s Ministry Bible studies on campus, I am so glad this has become such a success for you and what a blessing it has been for me.

After reading through the challenges and obstacles you and your team faced while this study took off, I wondered how you were able to make it so user-friendly. Did you start with posts on how to use the online sources? I also wondered if you posted a review of the rules for online etiquette. I can imagine you ran into problems for both of those questions.

Thank you for your contributions to the conference!
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Corissa Nelson (WELS Women's Ministry, Corissa Nelson Art) 2018-10-27 5:38:52pm
Hi Carley! Thanks for your comments. I'm so glad you are able to participate in the Women's Ministry studies on campus and that they are a blessing for you.
I did post a list of tips for using the technology along with screen shots. I also had a post about the etiquette. I think that helped the members guide each other from that point on. They were able to answer each other's questions. If we had etiquette issues, we usually handled them in private messages. Generally, it wasn't too much of a problem, though. Thanks so much for your comments!
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Sarah Brooks (Martin Luther College) 2018-10-25 12:52:45pm
Corissa,

I really enjoyed reading this and seeing how you decided to use technology to share the gospel! This was a super great way of “bridging the miles and adding a Bible study opportunity.” For those who live far away from a church or maybe even don't have one at all this is a wonderful way to be in fellowship with our sisters in Christ. I think its very cool to see the chart of where all the participants come from, even overseas! I appreciate all the work you have/continue to put into this is done with such a servant heart.

What were your thoughts when you said “Application of men and women roles in an online women's study.” How much should men be included in the bible study? I also wonder if you could try to do something with bible reading challenges or a weekly “comment your favorite section of scripture you read”. I feel as if this could keep women coming back to the page and making it a habit. Thank you! I pray that God-willing this facebook page and women's ministry keeps growing!
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Corissa Nelson (WELS Women's Ministry, Corissa Nelson Art) 2018-10-27 5:45:41pm
Hi Sarah! Thanks for your comments. We didn't have any men in the group, but that took effort. We had several men ask to observe or participate in the group, a few of them were pastors. After reviewing the question with others on the Women's Ministry committee and with our pastoral advisors, we opted to not approve their requests to join the group so that it could be a space for women only to study and share. Pastor Nelson sent kind messages to some of them to explain the decision. A couple of the profiles that were eventually approved for participation with male settings on the group were accounts being used by women and the account belonged to their husbands. There were only a couple of these, and they were women that were in the more elder age demographics that didn't have their own account and had good reasons not to create one. They signed each post with their own names and used profile pictures they were in. It worked just fine.
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Alexandria Conrad (Martin Luther) 2018-10-25 5:45:42pm
Corissa,

I appreciated how any women that have Facebook can join the group. “Study God's word together, encourage, share ideas, then GO out into our own communities — hundreds of communities can be reached out of the encouragement shared in just one study.” Many women go through the same struggles. However, sometimes those people are not close to you. Joining a Bible Study with just women in it makes women feel more safe about opening up. It is awesome to hear new ways to bring God into your everyday life.

When I read that you did not except the group to get this big. How did you react? How did you adjust? I think it’s great that you use Facebook. However, have you thought about using Twitter or another social media? I know teens today are very influences with technology.

After reading your article, I wondered if you have ever done a live video of bible studies? Is it just posts on Facebooks and discussions, have you ever joined together in a big group? “People simply don't interact the same way online.” Many women cannot open up in person the same way as they do on technology. I really appreciate how some people find this website comforting for them

Thank you for dedication to spreading the word of God. I am interested in joining the group myself!
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Corissa Nelson (WELS Women's Ministry, Corissa Nelson Art) 2018-10-27 5:49:11pm
Hi Alexandria! Thanks for your comments. I have considered other technology, but am not as fluent on other platforms. I would love ideas for using other platforms for younger demographics and would enjoy input on what would be best to use. I have certainly considered live video for the study, as I've seen it done well before (Holy Hen House does this and it's awesome.) So far, though, it has been an additional time commitment beyond what I've been able to add in to my schedule. I hope in time, something like this might be worked in with a larger volunteer team.
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Camella Kohl (Martin Luther College ) 2018-10-25 11:00:37pm


Mrs. Nelson

I really enjoyed reading your article about using Facebook as a way for women to communicate in and take part in a discussion group. I think that it is something that is super convenient for people that don’t live close to local churches, like the people in Iowa. “ In Iowa, congregations are far apart. Some members there travel quite a distance to church. Gathering mid-week can be difficult. Starting an online forum to discuss a book seemed like a good solution for bridging the miles and adding a Bible study opportunity.” By doing this, these women can participate in discussions without having to travel any distances, which is a great way for more and more women to join and be able to discuss, ask lots of questions, and have their questions answered.

While I was reading this article I was thinking about if there was any way for these discussions to be somewhere else instead of Facebook. Trying to use different types of social media to be able to have these discussion groups available, to be able to reach out to everyone except just women, like teenagers.

After reading your article I was wondering on if it would be useful to teach our future leaders and teachers to learn how to manage information and technology management since that’s how it seems to work on Facebook “The study also challenged the idea of what a Bible study leader is, as it involved a lot more technology management and information organization and less teaching.”


Thank you for your article!
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Corissa Nelson (WELS Women's Ministry, Corissa Nelson Art) 2018-10-27 5:53:35pm
Hello Camella! Thanks for your input. I am always interested in more ideas about which platforms can be used for younger demographics. I think that would be great to see. I think training for future leaders on how to manage technology could be great. I think this is also beginning to be built into administrative positions at some churches, and I think that is awesome. Technology has created new opportunities for many people to use their gifts to spread the Gospel and that's exciting. Perhaps this even creates a new area of leadership.
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Taylor Eve Sam Tabat (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2018-10-31 3:34:16pm
My partner and I really appreciate how you use Facebook as a platform. We think that by using this form of social media you will be able to hit a wider range of the audiences. As women ourselves, we appreciate how it is for women who want to use this opportunity to gain more knowledge and share there insights with one another in a positive, safe environment. A group that is for women helps promote confidence and similar ideas. We were happy to read your story and how this project has came to be such a large success for you. As women in the Lutheran community, we applaud your work and hope it shines a light for other women in the ministry that want to be involved in Bible studies.
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Samantha Humphreys Mya Budin (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2018-10-31 6:12:42pm
Corissa,
I absolutely loved this idea. As you know many people do not have transportation or even bible studies in their areas. This project could help people all across the globe get easy access to something they are passionate about. I was wondering how are you advertising this? I only ask that because I never would have known about this project if I hadn’t shown interest to this sight. There are many other platforms you could use to get the word out there for this project simply because it would be SO beneficial to many women in the world. I also loved how you decided to use technology to spread God’s word. As we all know, social media is a part of our every day lives whether we chose to believe so or not. More than half of this world has access to social media so being able to talk about God and gathering his followers around is something I stand behind 100%.
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Jennifer Oldman 2018-11-01 10:39:51pm
I applaud your efforts and the vision you had to get more people involved in bible study. It's amazing how God tends to stretch us out of our comfort zone. (Thinking about Moses and Joseph and how God stretched these men for His Kingdom purposes.)
I use bible.com on my I-phone which has devotions you can read. You can post comments and connect with friends and other Christians. However, this is a problem as it's open to all walks of Christianity and false teaching. The membership in our church here in Queensland, Australia is very small and only one other couple in our fellowship uses Bible.com. Hence I have been wondering how I could connect with other Lutherans that we are in fellowship with. (Our congregation has affiliations with the CELC.) It would appear that your group is an answer to my prayers.
I pray that God will continue to bless your efforts and equip you to do His work.
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Carresha Russell (Bethany Lutheran College) 2018-11-07 10:22:27am
I love the idea of online bible study for women. I believe it could go a long way with the right exposure. As stated in the the article the online bible study exceeded the expectations. It is a very promising idea to bridge miles between woman across the world.
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Connor James Schodorf, Brenden Coniglario (Wisconsin Lutheran College ) 2018-11-07 2:16:59pm
Brenden and I think what you are doing is very inspirational and inspiring. Its very cool that you are trying to bring women together, over social media in temps to bring them closer to Christ. I hope this continues to grow and you have a lot more success.
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Leah Mielke (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2018-11-07 5:55:33pm
Good evening, Corissa,

I love how you are finding a way for women to be engaged together in God's Word. It is such a wonderful thing! I also love how this Bible study is done on social media. It makes it easier to be involved in, allows for more people to participate, and it doesn't require any travel. Not everyone has access to a women's Bible study group in this area, so this is a great opportunity for them to be able to be involved!

One question I have for you:

You mentioned that there would be potential for there to be technical difficulties while the Bible studies were taking place. The internet is a tricky thing as we all know. Were there any instances while you were doing these Bible studies where technology interfered and caused you not to be able to hold them? What was the process of getting through those difficulties.

Thank you for sharing your experiences in this conference.
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Molly Plocher (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2018-11-09 12:27:59pm
Corissa,

I love that you have recognized how rapidly our culture is changing. As a millennial, I have grown up with the change just being "the way it is." Recognizing the differences in culture and finding ways to stay ahead of them will benefit the impact and reach of evangelism. Additionally, teaching women the tools for evangelizing is such an untapped market. As you stated, women seek relationships and connections. We speak freely with our friends, and even strangers. Moving the shift to the impacts women can make rather than simply what our pastors or teachers can do gives us a new mindset to tackle the dying world.

As my cousin pointed out in her comment below, I wonder what ways we have to spread the news of this Facebook group. As a busy college student, I am always looking for ways to stay in the Word and the concept of this "come as you can" Bible study is very appealing. Perhaps getting Campus Ministry involved could further the reach this group has, and to a whole new demographic.

Thank you for your effort and ministry!
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Annan Gari (Bethany Lutheran college ) 2018-11-10 5:21:10pm
What is better than an online bible study? In today's world where the media is playing an important role in daily life, it's a great idea to use that as a way of building a Christian community that is accessible for everyone. Starting with the hopes of getting 60 people and ending up with over 600 is quite remarkable. Thanks for sharing.
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EstifanosTsige (Bethany Lutheran College) 2018-11-12 6:45:57pm
The idea that you brought is really nice, it is really inspiring. The challenge of identifying and communication is a good point. The initiative is perfect for this story.